How to keep your PC from killing you
March 8, 1999
by Steve Bass
(IDG) -- Eight years ago, I was a mess. I was spending so much time at the computer, my vision was blurry, my hand ached (a disorder sometimes known as mousinitus) and my neck and shoulder hurt from scrunching the phone while typing.
Today, I'm armed with tools that reduce my repetitive-strain aches and pains. It may be time for you to take stock of your office -- chairs, desk, keyboards -- and make changes. My recommendations:
THE RIGHT GLASSES: A computer screen is really just a bunch of fuzzy dots of light -- bright at the center and dim at the edges. Your eyes can't get a handle on them, so they're constantly refocusing and readjusting. Prio Computer Eyewear helps you focus on the monitor.
To prescribe Prio glasses, an optometrist tests your eyes on an FDA-approved instrument that simulates a small computer screen. The Prios work even if you wear contact lenses or no glasses at all. They're not cheap -- mine cost $140 -- but they're worth it. With my Prios, images are distinctly sharper, my eyes don't get tired, and I think I write better. Seriously, I won't use the computer without them. Period.
RUBBER BAND: My user group recently had as a speaker Rich "Doc" Colley, a licensed chiropractor turned PC consultant. He recommended a cheap, ingeniously low-tech tool for reducing repetitive strain injury: a rubber band around your fingers. Colley told us that "RSI usually results from a constant, single plane of motion of one muscle group. The rubber-band exercise uses the protagonist-antagonist theory of muscle operation. If you type all day, the flexors of the wrist and fingers are stressed, and the joints become one-sided. Exercising the antagonistic muscle aids in balancing out the harm that's done at the computer."
So instead of clenching your fist, wrap the rubber band around the hand you use the most and extend it with your fingers. The exercise works, folks; I do it regularly.
KEYBOARD TRAY: At a friend's office recently I watched an employee developing a bad case of RSI (and probably a big lawsuit) right in front of my eyes. Her keyboard and mouse were on the desk and she was typing with her wrists bent upward. It hurt just watching her.
If you want to avoid RSI, you must keep your wrists straight and parallel to the floor. The best way is to stick the keyboard on a tray that slides under the desk.
I use Kensington's Underdesk SuperShelf. The 26-inch Kensington is rugged, big enough for my oversize Northgate keyboard, and has a mousing area attached. It's cheap, too, at $22 discounted. Installation is a hassle, but you can avoid it with Kensington's $60 EasyMount Underdesk that clamps on in seconds.
TELEPHONE HEADSET: A headset keeps my head upright and my hands on the keyboard. The gizmo plugs into my single-line telephone, substituting for the handset. Plantronics headsets are cheap -- I saw one at an office supply store that was going for about $80.
A COMFY CHAIR: I've got my tush comfortably planted in a marvelously designed office chair from BodyBilt. The backrest is fully adjustable, there's an inflatable lumbar support, and the seat keeps my legs parallel to the ground. The seat's contouring and size disperses my weight evenly, reducing pressure on my thighs.
The chair's three levers let me adjust the height, tilt the seat, and change the backrest angle to keep the center of the monitor at the recommended 20 degrees below eye level and my feet flat on the floor.
The cheapest one is $600. Add a 360-degree linear tracking arm to support your forearm or opt for leather, and the cost skyrockets to $1200. Hey, it's your tush.
All IT workers want is time off
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